The 1944 Spring Beer Festival Menu
Phil Townsend Hanna (see our Part VIII) was a long-time editor of Westways, the L.A.-based magazine for automobile travellers. The Franklin Library at University of Pennsylvania offers a helpful biographical note.
A 2010 blog entry of the Los Angeles Times gives further background. It explains how Hanna transformed the magazine into a more general cultural and travel resource, partly through his eye for quality art.
Bohemian Life, the publication of Bohemian Distributing Company, was edited by Hanna under pseudonym. It similarly had a deeper focus than the typical corporate newsletter. Some of its contributors included the writer Idwal Jones and famed culinary author M.F.K. Fisher.
A May 1940 issue of Bohemian Life in the collection of the design museum Cooper Hewitt, has a bright piece on Riesling, noting contemporary California examples. Also preserved at Cooper Hewitt: an issue from July 1940 on al fresco dining.
Both are well-written with an authoritative ring. The design elements are most appealing as well, conveying an elegant period look. The newsletters occasionally come up at auction.
The late Vance Gerry’s The Weather Bird Press in Pasadena issued a collection some 20 years ago.
In the July 1940 issue original pit barbecue is distinguished from later versions of BBQ, which seem even by 1940 to have become the rule. The term “barbecue” for the grilling equipment, placed in quotations, is already established, and paraphrasing it is noted everyone has one.
The Society’s 1938 pit barbecue event I discussed recently was an attempt to recover the original tradition.
Of the June 1944 menu (see Part VIII) mainly I had the impression of mixed European influences. The canapés were inspired by foods of Norway, maybe smoked salmon; of Strasbourg, maybe foie gras; and apparently of Poland (a few letters are missing on the left margin).
That employees were not available to do oyster shucking attests to wartime conditions, when so many were in military service or engaged with essential war work.
Relishes, it is stated, replaced a salad due to “streamlining” required by the times. This is interesting given California’s long reputation for fruit and vegetable culture. How wartime conditions impacted exactly is hard to say. There was no rationing for vegetables, I believe.
(Conversely, meat rationing seems not to have affected the ability to get a small pig for roasting).
A 1948 (non-beer) menu in Bohemian Life, preserved at UC Davis, gives an example of salads served at Society events in normal times. This was an Italian-theme luncheon, with the insalata course certainly lavish.
The 1944 dinner featured roast piglet. Such a dish is known in numerous places: Spain (Lechon), England, former Spanish colonial territories, and so on. The Society seemed interested to continue old Spanish culinary traditions, perhaps we see an example here.
Sauerkraut in Champagne seems Alsatian more than German perhaps, due to the wine type specified.
Brown Derby, a former chain of mid-market restaurants in southern California, supplied the cheesecake dessert. One Brown Derby still operates today, in Florida at Disney World Resort.
Grapefruit cheesecake was, still is at the Florida restaurant, a specialty of Brown Derby. The Disney Food Blog has a nice picture with notes on Brown Derby history; perhaps it was this version the Society enjoyed in March 1944.
The Florida Brown Derby’s menu appears in a Disneyworld website. The description of cheesecake is certainly appetizing:
Vanilla Sponge Cake with Grapefruit Syrup, Grapefruit Cheesecake, and Grapefruit Jam. A Brown Derby Original!
Cheesecake is emblematic of numerous culinary traditions, and this version seems, finally, more American than anything else.
Even if 1944 Acme Beer, due to wartime conditions, was unusually light-bodied, that may have suited the rich food better than a full-bodied beer. It all seems to have worked out in the end.
The menu states the dinner was “streamlined” due to absence of things like freshly-opened oysters and salads. By any measure today, the meal was a standout nonetheless.
The Last Part of this series follows.